A last word on Amazon and New York City. The story’s over but it doesn’t stop hurting. Twenty-five thousand jobs lost, maybe 40,000 when all is said and done, and of all kinds—high-tech, management, white-collar, blue. All the construction, and the signs and symbols of a coming affluence: the streets lit bright, the sidewalks busy, shops and restaurants humming, hiring. The feeling of safety you have when you pass doorways on the street at night and can hear laughter and conversation on the other side.
This is not just “a loss,” it is a whole lost world. And it is a watershed event for my town. After Amazon’s withdrawal no major American company will open a new headquarters here for at least a generation. No CEO is going to do what Jeff Bezos did, invest all that time and money, do all the planning, negotiating and deciding, only to see it collapse in bitter headlines because the politicians you’re making the deal with can’t control their own troops, and because in the end it is summoning a humiliation to do big business in a town whose political life is dominated by a wild and rising progressive left.
Their issues were tax breaks and unionization.
Should corporations, especially big, megarich ones, be given tax benefits for locating in a city or state? No, actually. They should come in simply as grateful and eager new citizens, especially in a place like New York, since there’s nothing like us. But that is not the world in which we live. In this world politicians are desperate to expand the tax base and brag about creating jobs. Companies can and do press every advantage. New York City and state offered Amazon almost $3 billion in future tax breaks. (Newark and New Jersey offered $7 billion; everyone’s desperate.) New York state said that over the next 25 years Amazon’s presence would yield $186 billion in positive economic impact, including $14 billion in additional tax payments. The progressives who dominate New York’s City Council charged those numbers came from consultants hired to support the deal. Fine, assume they doubled the actual benefits: That would mean $93 billion in positive economic impact, $7 billion in tax payments. Still a huge benefit to the people of New York, and a lifeline for a state experiencing, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, more than $2 billion in tax shortfalls because the rich keep moving out.
Jeff Bezos was the rich guy who wanted to move in.
Amazon was knocked because it wouldn’t promise to unionize. I favor private unions: A certain claimed equality, a certain balance between a huge company’s management and the working man or woman, is not the worst thing in the world. And people more than ever need to belong to something. If Amazon were unionized it would cost them, and, warm little humanitarians that they are, they would immediately pass the cost on to consumers. That cost increase might function as a little boost to neighborhood retailers. And we all want neighborhood stores to get a boost because they’re our neighbors. They talk to us; they are part of the community; they make life more human. But you can’t expect Amazon, which is a business, to walk in declaring: We’ll not only help you unionize, we’ll organize your first strike!
When Amazon withdrew, Mayor Bill de Blasio, in his embarrassment and fear, decided he’d bluff his way through with tough talk. Amazon ran because they couldn’t take the heat. “You have to be tough to make it in New York City.”
Oh you he-man, you stud. Those bland little Amazon drones are real softies. They work for the richest man in the world and their job is to make him richer and if they don’t, they’re fired. Half Mr. Bezos’ business plan involves selling things for a dime less. They’d strangle you for a nickel.
Here is the truth: New York’s progressives weren’t tough, they were weak. They don’t know how to play this game.
You want to be tough and mean, get what you want, and keep those jobs for your constituents? Here was the play:
You don’t unleash the furies and hold hearings where crowds jeer, hiss and chant “GTFO, Amazon has got to go.” You don’t put stickers on every lamp pole saying “Amazon crime.” You don’t insult and belittle their representatives. You don’t become Tweeting Trotsky.
You quietly vote yes, go to the groundbreaking, and welcome our new partner in prosperity. Then you wait. And as soon as the new headquarters is fully built and staffed, you shake them down like a boss.
You move on local issues—high rents, crowded subways. To help on unionization you get the next Democrat in the White House to sic the National Labor Relations Board. You go to your friends in the big New York papers and say, “Amazon’s cruel, the shifts are so long the elevator operators are peeing in bottles, Bezos dropped his wallet and when the receptionist picked it up it broke her back.”
And Mr. Bezos, whose life is changing, who by now is a prince of the city with the fanciest friends—he can’t stand being killed every day! Also it’s 2021 and he’s worth $250 billion, and he says, “What the hell, give them half of what they want.”
What’s he going to do, leave? The place has been built, billions have been spent.
That’s real left-wing hardball: You catch it, then you skin it.
They let their prey go. What second-rate slobs run this town.
Opponents came out early, hard and full of rage. Jimmy Van Bramer, the preening councilman whose district included Amazon’s site: “The mayor and the governor caved to the richest man on Earth and then handed the bill to each and every New Yorker.” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez didn’t wait a week after her election. Politico, Nov. 13: “She ripped the reported tax breaks the company will receive and described the local community’s reaction to the news as ‘outrage.’” Actually the community was for it; ideologues were against it. Amazon is rich, she said in a tweet: “The idea that it will receive hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks at a time when our subway is crumbling and our communities need MORE investment, not less, is extremely concerning for residents here.” Sometimes she seemed to think New York was literally handing Mr. Bezos a $3 billion check. Sometimes she seemed to know that wasn’t true but found it helpful to mislead. Like Mr. de Blasio she scrambled in apparent shock when Amazon backed out, and chose a triumphalist dodge. “Anything is possible: today was the day a group of dedicated, everyday New Yorkers & their neighbors defeated Amazon’s corporate greed.” No, everyday New Yorkers did not do it. They wanted the jobs. It was you, Fredo.
It would all be funny if it weren’t for that lost world. The 25,000 families getting a new paycheck, the mothers and fathers suddenly able to send their kids to the local Catholic school, the busy sidewalks, the lights. Instead, the books unbought in the store that didn’t open. The talent unhired and unmet.
Think of it that way and it breaks your heart. Really: breaks it.